The Urinals of The M.V. Queen of New Westminster

My work life is erratic (not erotic, unfortunately).

As you know, Larry the painter tried and failed to get me back to the mainland to continue working on the M.V. Kwuna. Both he and I are rather expecting the shipyard to give in at the last minute once they realize the only way to meet their latest revised schedule is to change the forms to read "2006" instead of "2005."

However, it may be too late. My initial contact in the land of boatworld (Al) called me up Wednesday night and invited me to work on a completely different ship, the Queen of New Westminster.

It's somewhat larger than my first boat. By "somewhat larger" I mean roughly 25 times bigger.

New West.

The hours are shorter (tens instead of twelves, with a for-real day off tomorrow), but the commute is at least an hour each way so things haven't changed much as far as time is concerned. The good news, though, is that this shipyard pays significantly more per hour than the first one. w00t!

I was searching for a picture to show you. This was the first hit on Google. Isn't she a beaut?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Here's one from a bit further back.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I've got maybe another week ahead of me. After that...well, after that I may have something steady to write about. We'll see, and knock wood.

I'm starting to like the direction things seems to be going.



I just heard from Larry. He can't talk them into bringing me over right now. They're perfectly willing to bring in non-union guys, but they'd rather bring 'em in through a temp agency. This, despite the fact that their turnover rate with temps is astronomical. In the 11 days I was there earlier this month I must have seen at least forty temps stay only long enough to collect a week's worth of beer money. Only two stayed on for longer than a week. Only one was there through the whole period.

He sounds as frustrated as I feel.

They're already late with this job, and it doesn't look like they'll meet even their revised schedule if they won't bring in people Larry can count on.

He predicts they'll figure this out at the last possible minute and finally agree to bring in whoever he wants. If I haven't already found work by then I'll go over, but if I have then they're SOL. He'll understand, and he'll gleefully say "I told you so" to their faces when the late penalties start kicking in. I love that sour old guy.

Despite being on the hunt for work again, the good news is that I can count on at least a few more (maybe a lot more) days at home and have a chance to shake this silly flu without sniffling and coughing into a respirator or having to quickly exit the bowels of the ship in order to void my own.

Damned flu.


Cliff Ruffner's boat building journal.


Back to the Kwuna

I got a call this afternoon from the painter who gave me the gaudy stick. Despite the fact that his name is Larry, he's a decent enough guy.

It looks like his best man quit, he needs someone to fill the hole, and he thought of me. Yeah, the crazy old fart thinks I can replace his best guy. WTF? I'm a Jack of all trades. I've got no tickets, no certificates other than the random small-time stuff I've picked up along the way. I'm certainly no professional painter. But if he's willing to keep me working like this I might just start seeing painting in a new light.

He's talking to the folks in charge right now, trying to talk them into paying my way again, and he'll let me know what's happening in the morning. This time I might be gone for anything from two to four weeks.

They've moved the boat in my absence, docking it at the main B.C. Ferries yard to install new engines and other assorted stuff I don't really understand. The catch is that this is a union outfit and I'm not a member, which is why Larry will have to convince them. On the flip-side, it might be my foot in the door (IUPAT? I dunno), in which case it could mean scads more work at an even better wage.

Regardless, it's cool that I've now made contacts with, and have seemingly impressed: one general contractor who manages to get some huge contracts (painting this was his last big job) and who also happens to be a friend of the family, one painting contractor who apparently never runs out of work and seems to love me, and the brass at the shipyard I started at. Who knows, maybe I'll make a few friends at B.C. Ferries during this next trip, too. If so, or if I manage to join the union, last month's sudden bolt from the blue might actually turn into some fairly regular work.

We could sure use that.

Despite seeing B.C. as my home I still feel like a fish out of water sometimes. I was born and raised a flatlander. I come from the land of the oil rigs and the farms. This stuff--forestry, shipyard work--is waaaay different from what I'm used to. All I need now is to work on a fishing boat. Crazy stuff.

Anyway, here at home we're not sure whether to celebrate the unexpected extra work or to mourn my going back to the mainland for up to a month. I haven't even finished washing the clothes I wore last time.

We sure have mixed feelings about it all.


How I spent my autumn vacation

First the background. My job with the tree service didn't work out. The guy was looking for someone with far more skill at felling trees than this ex-Albertan possessed. I was up front right from the start about my lack of experience, telling him that I'd used a chainsaw maybe five times in my life (three if you don't count the electric variety) and had only climbed trees as a kid. After a week, he suddenly acted all surprised that I didn't know some of the things he knew. What a shock that a guy raised on the prairies didn't have the same knowledge as the guy who'd been felling trees for thirty years.

At least he was an asshole about it, the fuckwad.

Anyway, that whole misadventure threw a big wrench into our financial plans for the next few months and, again, it became a mad scramble to find work--any work--that would pay the bills.


On October 27th I received an urgent call from Julie, a friend of Mrs. G's. "My husband is in Vancouver refitting a ship. He can't find reliable workers to save his life, and he asked me to call you. Can you go over for a week or two?"

"Uh, he knows I'm from Alberta, right? That the only boats I know anything about are those pirate ship rides you see at the carnival? That I get confused trying to tie a 12' fishing boat to a dock?"

"He doesn't care. He needs painters, not sailors."

"Oh! Tell him I'll be there in less than 48 hours."

It turns out two people from my town went over: Dick the fire chief and Sean the galoot. I didn't know how to get to the shipyard so I called Dick and we arranged to take the ferry over in his truck. We arrived on the mainland on the morning of the 29th and drove straight to the shipyard.

As soon as I arrived Al (Julie's husband) threw a pair of coveralls, a hardhat, a respirator, a can of paint and some brushes and rollers at me and pointed at the ship they were working on.

"Do you have confined spaces training?"


"Good. Go paint."

It was the MV Kwuna, a 26 vehicle B.C. ferry from the Gulf Islands, small for a ferry but huge for a guy who'd never before crawled around in the bowels of a ship.

I spent 12 hours/day--11 days straight--scraping, cleaning, tarping and painting, working alongside a gaggle of other painters, welders, machinists, pipefitters, engineers and who knows what else. My job mainly consisted of crawling into spaces tighter than a coffin with a flashlight between my teeth and a mirror in one hand and a brush in the other, painting the parts the guy with the spraygun couldn't reach. "Striping," they call it. I rarely saw the sky, as I was deep within the spaces below.

It was hard, hot, exhausting work and, aside from the huge downer of being apart from my wife and kids for so long, I loved every minute of it. Eventually, confined spaces which originally made me (a claustrophobe) shrink in fear became the areas I excelled at. I wound up volunteering for the tightest, hardest-to-reach places, the ones nobody else wanted. One guy told the foreman, "Fuck you! I'm not crawling into that spot," while I happened to be walking by. I poked my head into the space and said, "Pfft. That's no big deal, I'll do it." And I did. And the other guy got fired for telling the boss to eff off.

My claustrophobia is cured. Very. They nicknamed me "Houdini" for my ability to get into and out of spaces nobody else could. At this point I'd be willing to take on one of those yogis who fold themselves into little boxes for kicks. I could now, conceivably, have sex inside a microwave oven. As a result there are places on that ship which have seen their first coat of paint since it was launched in the 70's.

Each night I went back to the hotel room, showered and ate, called Mrs. G to talk for a bit, then collapsed in a heap on the bed.

I learned a lot, worked like a dog, and impressed the head painter (not Al, someone else) enough that on my last day he invited me out for a beer and told me I was at the top of his call-list for the next big job he got. Awesome! I know that nobody else got that sort of treatment. He also stopped by his place on the way back from beers and brought out a walking stick which his wife had made for me. (The stick is ugly as sin, but I acted impressed at his wife's "wonderful art.") A parting gift, and another exclusive. Too cool, eh?

On top of it, I made more money in 11 days than what I normally make in a month and a half, giving us a bit of breathing room while I seek out my next job.

I'm back home now, sleeping 10 hours a night with cat-naps during the day to catch up, nursing my bruises and sore legs, and eager to get another call from these guys.

I hate being away from my family. If you add up all the days Mrs. G and I have been apart over the past decade it wouldn't come to more than a week. That part sucked big-time. On the other hand, it becomes easier over time, especially knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Is this something I'd do again? Hell, yeah! In a heartbeat! And it's a lot more fun and less dangerous than felling trees.

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